If you love me, you will obey what I command.
The book of John has been known to be theologically rich and yet profoundly simple at the same time. This same description can be applied to many of the verses in the book itself, and John 14:15 is one of them – if you love me, you will obey what I command. So simple, yet so clear. So direct, yet so significant. In John 14, Jesus comforts his disciples regarding his soon to be departure from them and the world. It’s a bit like a Q&A session between Jesus and the diciples, no? Jesus tells them something, and the disciples take turns to ask questions, prompting further elaboration from Jesus. At the end of the chapter, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit (spirit of truth), yet there is a condition that has been repeated throughout the chapter: if you love me.
If – In programming language if is a very common construct used in a series of if-then-else statements. If is a condition, so in trying to applying the if-then-else logic to this verse, it would be (if) you love me, (then) you will obey what I command, (else) you will not obey what I command. In other words, if we love him, we will obey his commands. If we don’t love him, we won’t obey his commands. There’s only two ways about it. Whether you obey or not. There’s illogical and illegal (in programming) to disobey his commands and yet still love him. You’ll get an error from the program.
you love me – we know that Jesus loves us, there’s no doubt about that. And, logically speaking, as Christians, we ought to love Jesus. But it’s not a guarantee, unlike his love for us. It’s an ‘if’. Looking at this phrase in context, I don’t think that Jesus was doubting his disciples, but in this case he was using obedience to his commands as a means to quantify our love for him. If we obey his commands, that’s clear proof that we love him. How do we quantify love? We often express it by doing things for the ones we love, spending time with them, and of course, being troubled and grieving if they leave us. I think what Jesus is trying to say here is – don’t express your love for me by grieving over my departure or mopping around after me. Instead, express your love for me by obeying my commands.
you will obey – I don’t speak Greek, and looking across the translations I doubt there’s a distinction in the word ‘will‘ in the original language, but to me, that’s an important translation. Obedience is a matter of our wills. Obedience comes from a willing heart. True love for Jesus will result in a willingness to obey his commands. It wasn’t you must obey what I command. We aren’t forced to – the greatest reason why we obey him should be love. Because we love him, we obey him. And in our obedience to his commands, our love for him is proven. There may be other reasons why you obey. Fear, maybe. Obligation, maybe. Perhaps more. I am not confident in saying that the only driving force for our obedience should be love – that’s a bit too much a claim for me, but I dare say that the greatest driving force for our obedience ought to be love.
what I command – Much of the Bible is filled with commands. Jesus himself made quite a number. God has plenty. And in the later books, the apostles had their fair share of commands too. Looking at the Father, the Son and the Spirit as one, their commands cannot really be tracked back to anything. The source of God’s commands is, simply, God. At the end of Jesus’ commands, it’s God too. If one analyzes the commands of the apostles, they often can be traced back to Jesus. Imitate the apostles, who imitate Jesus – it’s probably the same logic.
Many many years ago, I was told that God is actually very simple. Why complicate things? I wonder if you’ll agree with that sentiment. Over the years I’ve found myself agreeing with it and disagreeing with it many times. When I read the book of Revelations, for example, I tend to disagree that God is simple (although my mentors have assured me that my difficulty with certain books is mostly due to my lack of familiarity with them which can be overcome with time and effort). And when I come across verses like I AM WHO I AM [Exo 3:14|Article], I tend to agree that God is simply that awesome. I’m not trying to say that God is simple-minded, no way. I’m not even saying that I can understand God fully – because I can’t. I think what’s simply about Christianity is the love of God. Everything else may have layers and layers of significance and mysteries, but the love of God is so wholesomely expressed again and again. God loves us, to the point where he sent his only son to die for us. This simple verse tells us the simplest response to God’s love for us – it’s not even to love him back (not that we shouldn’t, loving God is surely also a command somewhere) – obey his commands.
That’s all there is to it.